How can someone mean so much to so many without ever seeing their face? This is the conundrum of the voice actor, or at least it was in the era before social media when the words delivered by your favourite animated character came from some anonymous person whose name you may only recognize from the credits. Rare were the people like Mel Blanc who were celebrities on their own, and known almost as well as their cartoon characters. One might feel that this is the case with Peter Sallis, who had a long and distinguished TV and theatre career in Britain, but will be known more to North American audiences for being Wallace.
Wallace and Gromit that is. Sallis passed away quietly this past Friday at his retirement home, according to a statement released by his agent, Jonathan Altaras Associates. “It is with sadness that we announce that our client Peter Sallis died peacefully, with his family by his side, at Denville Hall on Friday 2 June.”
Sallis has over 150 screen credit to his name listed on IMDb, all the way back to playing Quince in a 1947 TV movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Among his credits is an epic run on the British sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine, where Sallis played retired salesman Norman Clegg who always found himself the third wheel in the various schemes and adventures of his old school mates. Sallis had the distinction of appearing in all 295 episodes of the series, although age and health mitigated how big a role he could play in the series in its last few seasons.
But for non-Anglophiles, they most likely know Sallis as the voice of Wallace, the cheese-loving inventor who gets into all kinds of cracking adventures along with his faithful canine companion Gromit. Sallis voiced Wallace for a series of short films, and the feature length The Curse of the Were-Rabbit for Aardman Animations. “I’m so sad, but feel so grateful and privileged to have known and worked with Peter over so many years. He was always my first and only choice for Wallace,” said Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park in a statement.
“Working with him was always a delight and I will miss his wry, unpredictable humour and silliness – that started the moment he greeted you at the door, and didn’t stop when the mic was switched off,” Park added: “Peter had naturally funny bones and was a great storyteller and raconteur off stage too and would keep us amused for hours.”
Sallis is survived by his son, Crispian Sallis, an accomplished art director and set designer.